Everybody is linking to Steven Stwalley's Crumbling Paper Index where he has been posting an unending stream of grand old newspaper funnies. Last April he wrote an introductory note that stuck in my noodle. It is of particular interest to me as one of my grand failed projects of recent times was The History of Humour. I was attempting to recreate the humour of past times in such a way that the reader could enter into a moment in which that humor lived again, albeit through a screen of irony, rather than to present it in the detached scientific manner of the sociologist. One of the problems I found was that I could not always depend on my reader to share my intelligent benevolence, let alone my sense of what is funny. (I have even heard that there are some who think that this blog is not the most amusing thing in the world.)
Thus one is duty bound to frame everything in the health and safety warnings of our own times, which I'm sure will provoke hilarity for a later generation. I rather like the panache with which Steven dealt with the issue:
...my impression from reading stuff from early in the last century, I don’t think that most people even had heard of the concept of racism. Race and ethnicity was not only viewed as a ripe source of humor… it was one of the most popular sources of humor.
Today’s newspaper comics (which I should note are incredibly tame in comparison to the early comics in almost every way imaginable) have their genres… domestic humor, office humor, funny animals, etc. If you were to divide up the major genres of the early (pre-1920) comics, it would have been something like: racial and ethnic humor, devil children humor, unstable marriage humor, dim-witted woman humor, homelessness and poverty humor, violence and misfortune humor, and wacky surrealism. So that all said, here are the deeply offensive Chocolate Drops, by E. W. Kemble, circa July 23, 1911 from the American Examiner. I can’t imagine a strip in a modern paper depicting young kids stealing a car for a joyride and laughing when they get some adults arrested, can you? Anyone who says the past was a more innocent time is talking out of their ass.
Labels: classic strips(2)